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On the Losing Side

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It starts on the anniversary of John’s wedding.

John is drunk, which was only to be expected, considering how hard Mary’s death was for him.
Sherlock doesn’t know how it happens. One moment he’s trying to help John get up from his chair and get him to bed, and the next they’re kissing. Their mouths mash together clumsily, and Sherlock’s mind goes entirely blank. John tastes of whiskey and beer but also of John, John, Sherlock has wanted this for so long, to have John in his arms, finally, touching him, kissing him—

But this is not it, is it? John is drunk. He doesn’t really want this (doesn’t really want Sherlock). He’s drunk and he’s still grieving, there’s nothing more to it, and it would be absolutely despicable for Sherlock to take advantage of that.

It’s an enormous effort to break the kiss, but Sherlock does it anyway.

“John,” he breathes, “are you sure…” He doesn’t get any further than that.

“Shut up, for once,” John slurs, and then he makes sure Sherlock does exactly that by plunging his tongue deep into Sherlock’s mouth. Sherlock is kissing back before he knows it, everything he learned with Janine and then deleted coming back to him, and he’s helpless, he’s physically unable not to try to give John he wants, because John is everything, everything, and Sherlock doesn’t have the strength to resist.

He pulls John closer, and the hard length of John’s cock presses against his thigh. John shifts against him, grinding his pelvis into Sherlock’s leg. He moans into Sherlock’s mouth as he ruts against him, and the feeling of the hard evidence of John’s desire is intoxicating and utterly irresistible. Sherlock feels himself thickening against John’s hip, feels an answering need to seek friction in the warmth of John’s body, but the last remnants of clear thought kick in before his hips can start acting on their own volition.

John isn’t attracted to men. Even in his current befuddled state, the feeling of an erect penis pressing against him might not be very much to his taste and turn him off.

Sherlock doesn’t have to worry about that for long, though, because John steps back a little and his hands move from Sherlock’s back to his own belt buckle, clumsily trying to unfasten it.

Sherlock thinks fast, or perhaps he doesn’t think at all. He doesn’t know which act exactly John has in mind, but the general gist is clear: he wants sex, he wants it now, and he wants it from Sherlock (technically: he wants it from the only person currently available. Better not worry about details.) Obstacle: Sherlock’s undeniable maleness – an obvious reminder that he’s Sherlock, not Mary come back from the dead, or any other person John might conceivably want. There’s only one solution.

He pushes John back into his chair and falls on his knees in front of him. He doesn’t look at John’s face as he pushes his legs wide apart and positions himself between them – he only looks at the tented crotch of John’s jeans. He unbuckles John’s belt and opens his trousers, listening to the harsh sounds of John’s breathing, and then places his hand awkwardly inside the vee of the zip, against the bulge in John’s pants. He can feel John hot and hard underneath his palm as he grinds down, eliciting a grunt from John’s lips.

Sherlock supposes there can’t be much difference between fellatio performed by a man and by a woman. He only needs to avoid giving John a stubble rash, he thinks as he frees John from his pants and touches him cautiously.

John lets out a moan as Sherlock’s fingers encircle him, and Sherlock can’t help glancing up at him: John’s head is thrown back, mouth hanging open, eyes screwed shut. (He isn’t looking. Of course he isn’t.)

Sherlock strokes up and down John’s shaft a couple of times, trying to memorise the feel of it, before lowering his head and touching his lips to it.

“Fuck!” John groans as Sherlock’s lips wrap around the tip of his cock, his hips jerking. Sherlock has no experience to draw on, but it isn’t difficult to follow the cues of John’s body, to find out what John likes, how hard to suck, where to press his tongue. John’s cock is thick and heavy in Sherlock’s mouth and Sherlock’s world narrows down just to the feeling of it sliding between his lips, just to the overpowering need to give John what he wants.

If Sherlock’s lack of expertise is showing, John doesn’t seem to mind as he moans and writhes in pleasure. He places on the top of Sherlock’s head, and for some reason that simple gesture feels much more erotic than having John’s cock in his mouth, and Sherlock can’t entirely stifle a moan when a fresh wave of heat pools between his legs.

“Oh, oh, fuck!” John’s hips thrust up in reaction and his hand tightens in Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock stills, letting him thrust into his mouth. It’s lucky that Sherlock had trained himself to control his gag reflex years ago, Sherlock thinks distantly as John fucks his mouth with rising speed, letting out a broken stream of curses. It doesn’t take very long at all before John’s movement lose rhythm, and then he thrusts in hard and deep and stills.

Sherlock does his best to swallow as hot salty liquid hits the back of his throat but chokes despite his efforts. He lets go of John’s cock a little sooner than he would have liked to, stifling a cough, and he rests his head against John’s inner thigh, just for a while, just for a brief moment before John’s breathing quietens, while John is too high on endorphins to notice Sherlock taking comfort he has no right to.

John hand falls out of Sherlock’s hair and it feels enough like a caress for Sherlock to let himself indulge in the illusion of affection for a moment, before he finally looks up at John, bracing himself for what he might see.

John is asleep.

“John?” Sherlock says quietly.

“Mmm,” John murmurs, but he doesn’t open his eyes, and his breathing deepens.

This is the end of what Sherlock has been trying not to want for so long, then: John in a drunken stupor, asleep in his chair with his trousers open and his cock out, and Sherlock with a sore throat and tears prickling at the back of his eyes.

It never ended like that in Sherlock’s treacherous fantasies – there were sleepy kisses, and warm bodies close together, and soft whispered words. Not this.

But of course, in Sherlock’s fantasies John was never drunk, and it was always Sherlock whom he wanted.

Sherlock tucks him in gently and does his fly up, a cold feeling of shame settling over him as he gets up and looks for a blanket. John may have initiated, but he was intoxicated and clearly not himself. Sherlock had taken advantage of his drunk and grieving friend, who had expressed his complete lack of interest in him too many times to count, in the most disgusting way, and even John’s unparalleled capacity for forgiveness might not be enough for this kind of breach of trust.

He covers John with a blanket and places the Union Jack cushion under his head, then retreats to the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash away at the bitter taste of ejaculate. There is a chance that John won’t remember anything in the morning, but it’s a small one.

Sherlock stomach roils with a wave of nausea, and any thoughts of a quick wank he might have had are gone.

***

Sherlock doesn’t sleep, but in the morning he’s likely to be better off than John, who’s bound to have a crick in the neck and a backache on top of the hangover.

He’s sitting at the kitchen table watching the back of John’s chair when John wakes. He groans in pain as he shifts, then swears under his breath, moving gingerly, trying to locate the sources of all his pains and aches.

And then:

“Oh, shit,” he curses, and it’s clear that this time it’s not in pain. The slim hope Sherlock had that John might not remember vanishes. He’ll have to face it, then, and he’s decided to do it now, when John’s weakened by the hangover and less likely to shout.

John stands up carefully, stretching his back, then turns, and sees Sherlock in the kitchen. Sherlock looks at the table. He’d meant to watch John, try to gauge his reaction, but he can’t, he just can’t.

John shuffles to the kitchen, and even though Sherlock isn’t looking at him he can read the awkward hesitance of his movements – he’s not angry, at least not yet. He’s just nervous.

Sherlock pushes the glass of water he’d prepared and a packet of painkillers towards him. “Here,” he mumbles, which is just embarrassing, really – Sherlock Holmes isn’t supposed to mumble.

“Oh, um. Thanks,” John says, and he’s not exactly good at articulation either. He takes two pills and drains the glass.

“I… er,” he says haltingly. “Right. I should…” he trails off, and moves to walk towards the bathroom.

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock blurts, unable to bear it any longer.

John stops in his tracks. “What? No, it’s… it’s me who should apologise, really, I…”

“It’s fine,” Sherlock says tersely – it’s absolutely ridiculous that John should feel guilty, when Sherlock was the sober one and entirely unable to control his feelings.

“Right. Good.” John hovers on the spot for a moment, then finally disappears to the bathroom.

Sherlock lets his shoulders slump as some of the tension leaves his body. John isn’t angry. Things will probably be awkward between them for some time, but then they’ll be all right, won’t they? Sherlock could never forgive himself otherwise.

The atmosphere is rather tense between them for the next few days. The distance they keep between them has tripled, there are no more casual touches, no more relaxed companionship. Sherlock hates it – he lived for those brief moments of closeness, it was the most he could get, but now has to do without them. He hopes it will be only temporary, that they’ll regain their balance in time.

Fortunately, there is a seemingly ridiculous case involving an exclusive golf club reserved only for redheads, which finally proves interesting enough to distract them both from the tension between them. The case ends with a brief but rather fun chase across the golf course, then they have Chinese for dinner and when they come home, it feels like they’re back to normal.

But not entirely back to normal, as becomes evident when John goes to make tea and Sherlock reaches for the petri dish containing his latest experiment, and suddenly they are closer to each other than they’ve been since that night. John’s breath hitches, and even though Sherlock knows he should move away he can’t bring himself to, not when the closeness of John’s body is so exquisitely tantalising after days of almost no contact. John’s eyes flicker to Sherlock’s lips, and the need to kiss him is an almost magnetic pull, but somehow, Sherlock manages to take a step back.

“I… shower,” he stutters, almost, and flees to the bathroom.

He showers and tries to focus on storing the latest case in his mind palace, not thinking about John and what he might want and what it might mean, and he certainly doesn’t think about why he’s suddenly decided it’s suitable to shave before bed, which had never been his habit.
He puts on his blue dressing gown and wanders to his bedroom feeling off-kilter, and sits on the edge of his bed as if waiting for something, hoping for something (he knows what, but it’s better not to acknowledge it).

It’s less than ten minutes before he hears John’s hesitant steps, and then John’s standing in the doorway, looking at Sherlock with an intensity that makes it hard to breathe.

Feeling his heart pounding in his throat, Sherlock reaches for the bedside lamp and flicks it off, turning John into a dark shadow against the light coming in from the kitchen.

John takes a step towards Sherlock, then another, and he’s right in front of him, right in front him and Sherlock feels strung so tight he’s going to snap any moment –

John’s fingertips ghost over Sherlock’s temple, and that’s the moment: Sherlock’s hands take hold of John’s shirt to pull him down, but before he has the time to actually do that he’s already on his back and John’s on top of him, kissing him with a desperate hunger.

“Please,” John whimpers, fingers scrambling over Sherlock’s shoulders. “Please, I need—“

He doesn’t say what he needs, which makes Sherlock want to give it to him even more. He pushes at John’s shoulders, reversing their positions. Oral sex might be a little unimaginative, considering it’s what they did the last time, but Sherlock’s options are limited, and he isn’t prepared for anything else. (Next time, maybe.) He’ll just have to try hard to make it worthwhile.

He kisses down John’s chest as he unbuttons his shirt, and when he spreads it open he can’t resist the temptation to kiss John’s right nipple, tongue lapping at the little hard nub. Clearly John’s nipples are sensitive, because he moans, his hips jerking, and so Sherlock licks harder, sucks a little, and massages John’s other nipple with his fingers, while his other hand deftly opens John’s trousers.

Sherlock has always known John is a very sexual man, but he never suspected how much. It’s so easy to turn John into a wanton, lust-driven creature: just tease his nipples with tongue and lips and fingers, stroke his cock through his pants, and John is writhing in pleasure under him, making delightful little noises that should by all rights be ridiculous but are in fact incredibly arousing, and make Sherlock fiercely proud that he’s the one who caused them.

Sherlock kisses John’s belly, nuzzles at the trail of hair running through the middle of it, and then mouths at John’s cock through the cotton of his pants, wetting it thoroughly with saliva as he laps at it, enjoying the heavy, musky smell.

By the time Sherlock takes him in his mouth John is breathing rapidly and digging his fingers into the mattress, moans escaping his lips without even a hint of restraint. Sherlock takes him as deep as he can and John groans loudly, back arching, though his hips stay still – sober John is clearly a more considerate lover than drunk John. (Sherlock wishes he was a little less considerate and put his hand in Sherlock’s hair again.) He makes good use of everything he learned that first night, lavishing attention on John’s most sensitive spots, sucking gently but vigorously.

“Oh, yes!” John almost shouts when Sherlock takes hold of his testicles. “Keep do—hnnng!—keep doing that.” Sherlock has no intention of disobeying – he fondles John’s sac gently, then presses two fingers behind it, against John’s perineum.

“Fuck! That’s it, I’m gonna—there, yes, yes---!” John’s words turn into an inarticulate, drawn-out sound as he comes, pulsating in Sherlock’s mouth.

Sherlock stays where he is as John comes down, stroking John’s thighs, utterly at a loss for what to do now.

“Wow,” John says as his breathing slowly evens out. “That was—wow. Do you…. Um, I mean, should I--?”

He’s asking if he should reciprocate, Sherlock realises. Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to him that could happen, but it should have – John is a considerate lover, and of course he wouldn’t want to leave his partner unsatisfied, even if… well. Even if he found the act off-putting.

“No need,” Sherlock says. “I’m—good.”

“Right,” John says, and then again, “Oh! Right.” as he reaches the wrong conclusion. It’s dark enough and the dressing gown is loose enough for John not to notice that Sherlock is still hard. It’s better this way – the desire to feel John’s hand on him is strong, but he couldn’t bear to let John touch him and know that he must be suppressing disgust. Better let John believe Sherlock came untouched.

“I’ll just…” Sherlock gestures vaguely towards the bathroom, grateful for having a pretext to disappear.

In the bathroom, he turns on all the taps to cover any noise he might make as he takes himself in hand. He’s harder than he can ever remember being, and it only takes five fast, tight strokes before he’s coming, swallowing John’s name.

When he comes back to the bedroom, John has already gone.

***

By the time Sherlock gathers the courage to leave his room the next morning, John’s already up and making breakfast.

“Morning,” he grins at Sherlock, and it stuns Sherlock into silence. He’d been preparing himself for another round of painful awkwardness, but this is not it. This is—just John. “I’m making a fry-up, and you’re going to have some,” he announces, and he sounds—okay. Happy, almost. “No excuses.”

Sherlock sits down at the table, where there is already a cup of tea waiting for him. John hardly ever bothers to make a full breakfast, even though he really likes it, but he’s making it now, and he’s smiling.

Maybe they could have this: have sex when John wants to, and just go on as always in the morning, as if nothing had happened. It’s not exactly what Sherlock would have liked, but what he would like is not the point. He’ll take anything John gives him, and this is more than he would ever have expected. It would only be temporary, of course. Just until John gets over Mary’s death properly and is able to begin a new relationship. Now he’s probably just feeling lonely, but too vulnerable still to look for someone new, and maybe that would still feel like infidelity to him – but Sherlock’s a friend, and a man, so he doesn’t count. Maybe that could work.

He isn’t sure if that’s what John wants – maybe he has no intention of continuing things. But if he does, then Sherlock needs to be ready. He spends some time doing research on his laptop, and then sets out to buy the necessary supplies.

Nothing happens that day, or the next. John goes to the surgery and Sherlock dissects a venomous frog and in the evening they watch telly and everything is absolutely normal. But then, on the third day, John comes home from the morning shift with his shoulders tense and brow furrowed, he puts sugar in his tea, and the amount of swear words in his casual speech increases by 5 – 10 %. Sherlock knows those signs: they mean that that evening, John will use up all the hot water by first having an overly long bath and then masturbating in the shower.

That’s what he usually does. But now that he knows that Sherlock’s available to him… he might make different plans.

When night begins to fall, Sherlock locks himself in the bathroom and sets about getting ready. First, enema. It might not be entirely necessary, given that John’s a doctor and hardly squeamish, but Sherlock’s already a poor substitute to what John really wants, so he should at least try to spare him any unpleasant surprises. Next, shower. He cleans himself as thoroughly as he can, using a shower gel with a flowery fragrance that he hopes will be enough to mask any distinctly masculine scents. Then, as close a shave as possible, followed by a scentless balm that promises to leave his skin soft and smooth.

Finally, Sherlock takes out the bottle of lubricant he’s bought. He has no experience with penetration and finds the prospect a little daunting, which is of course ridiculous. He braces himself against the sink and touches a lube-coated fingertip to his anus, willing himself to relax. Briefly, he imagines what it would be like if it was John doing this, gently easing Sherlock open while whispering loving words to him and kissing him, but that’s neither here nor there, and he cuts the thought short. The finger inside him feels intrusive and uncomfortable, but he doesn’t dwell on it, and adds another one as soon as he can.

He stretches himself as efficiently as he can manage, using copious amounts of lube. By the time he thinks he’s sufficiently loose, he’s broken out in a sweat, and he berates himself for not having bought a women’s antiperspirant. There’s nothing he can do about that now, so he just washes his hands, throws a dressing gown over his shoulders, and exits the bathroom through the door to the hallway.

John’s reading the paper in the kitchen – or pretending to read the paper. He looks up and Sherlock gives him just a brief glance before turning to his bedroom. He leaves the door wide open, hoping it’s invitation enough – he can’t make it more obvious in case it’s not actually what John wants.

He leaves the dressing gown on the floor and slips under the covers. The feel of lube between his buttocks is uncomfortable. Has he used too much of it? Or maybe too little. How long can he stay adequately stretched? He hopes John will hurry if he wants to join him, before Sherlock can actually work himself into a panic. He hates how nervous it makes him feel – it’s all just transport, after all, and he should be glad if he gets to use it to give John pleasure.

Fortunately, John doesn’t waste much time, and he comes in with only a fraction of the hesitance he showed on the previous occasion.

“Okay?” he asks quietly when he stops by Sherlock’s bed, and Sherlock nods emphatically, so that John can’t miss it in the lack of light.

John toes off his shoes and pulls his jumper over his head. Sherlock’s heart is beating so hard he thinks John must hear it. He reaches for one of the condoms he’d laid out on the bedside table, and when John takes off his trousers and sits on the edge of the bed, he presses it into John’s hand.

John seems to freeze for an instant.

“Everything’s taken care of,” Sherlock assures him, in case John was worried about that. John quickly takes off his shirt and lies down next to Sherlock, burying his fingers in Sherlock’s hair as he leans in to kiss him.

It’s a lovely kiss – slow and deep, not so obviously driven by nothing more than sexual need. Sherlock wishes they could do just this for the rest of the night, but that’s a ridiculous, sentimental notion. He lets the kiss calm his jangled nerves a little but tears himself away as soon as he can bring himself to. This is for John. He turns to lie on his front, placing a pillow under his hips, and spreads his legs. John’s for the taking.

John drops little kisses to Sherlock’s back, which is so surprising and Sherlock likes it so much that he doesn’t immediately notice John stroking himself to full hardness. Stupid, Sherlock tells himself. He should be doing that, shouldn’t he? Not just lie there like a useless lump. He should have devised some sort of foreplay, instead wasting time on his stupid worries.

But before he can decide to do anything, he hears the crinkle of the condom wrapper opening, and can’t do anything anymore, just lie there and hope that his rapid breathing will pass for arousal and not panic.

John notices the extra tube of lubricant Sherlock had placed on the bedside table in case his preparations in the bathroom weren’t enough, and uses it to slick himself, and then he’s stroking Sherlock’s sides soothingly and positioning himself between Sherlock’s legs and Sherlock can feel the blunt tip of John’s cock against his entrance and he must relax and then—

It doesn’t hurt, exactly, but the stretch and discomfort is sudden and significant enough to make Sherlock gasp, even though he meant to stay quiet. John lets out a grunt at the exact same moment, though, so hopefully he doesn’t notice. Logically, Sherlock knows that John can’t be very deep inside him yet, but he already feels so full, he doesn’t know how if he can take any more, but he must, he mustn’t ruin this for John.

John braces himself on his forearms and pushes in deeper. The fullness and intrusiveness of it makes Sherlock want to scream and scramble to get away, but he bites his lip and stays quiet, breathing through his nose in an attempt to regain control

John starts moving slowly, and gradually Sherlock gets used to the feeling. It’s not exactly pleasurable, but it’s John – it’s John inside of him, it’s as close as they can be, and that knowledge is satisfying enough in itself. Sherlock focuses on that, and tries not to think about what (or rather, whom) John might be thinking about, whose name might be on his lips if his sighs took the shape of words.

John keeps the smooth, even rhythm for some time, but eventually he starts picking up speed. He shifts a little and the minute change of angle means his next thrust sends a sharp spike of pleasure through Sherlock, like a firework exploding deep in his core. He tries to keep quiet, his teeth digging into the soft flesh of his lower lip hard enough to draw blood, but the sensation is too intense and a distasteful whine gets past his lips anyway. Fortunately, John seems too far gone to be distracted by a brief noise. His thrust become harder and faster, eliciting a series of moans and curses from him, that Sherlock already recognises as characteristic of John’s approach to orgasm. Two more times John brushes Sherlock’s prostate, but Sherlock’s is ready for it now and manages not to make any more noise.

Finally, John’s hips move in a rapid succession of sharp, powerful stabs until he buries himself deep inside Sherlock and comes, unabashedly vocal in his release.

John collapses next to Sherlock, who feels empty in more ways than one when John’s cock slips out of him, and he’s indescribably grateful when John stays close to him and he can steal a little of his warmth.

“All right?” John asks quietly, still out of breath, as he moves his hand to Sherlock’s hair again. “What would you--?”

“I’m fine,” Sherlock says quickly. It’s true, really – all through the proceedings he’s only been half-erect at best, his nerves and discomfort stifling any arousal he might otherwise have felt.

John says nothing, perhaps surmising that Sherlock came without direct stimulation again, or perhaps just grateful that he doesn’t have to touch him. He keeps stroking Sherlock’s hair, though, and Sherlock is so out of sorts that he takes the liberty of leaning into the touch a little, and then pressing a kiss to the inside of John’s wrist.

“Good night, then,” John whispers and kisses Sherlock’s forehead so gently it sends a shiver down Sherlock’s spine. He gets up, discards the condom and gathers his clothes.

“Good night,” Sherlock says after him quietly. He shifts into the space John has just vacated, and curls in on himself, alone.

***

After that, they develop a sort of routine. Every two to four days, Sherlock will notice John exhibiting subtle signs of heightened need for sexual release, and prepare accordingly. Most commonly, Sherlock will clean and prepare himself in the bathroom and then wait for John in his bedroom, where they'll have anal sex without much foreplay or nonsexual contact. Sherlock is usually on his front or his hands and knees, or, occasionally, lying on his side. He would have liked it face to face, pull John close, wrap both his arms and legs around him, but of course that's out of the question, impossible like so many other things. If for some reason Sherlock doesn’t have enough time for preparation, he’ll bring John off with his mouth. Sherlock prefers the blowjobs, really – he feels more in control that way, clothed, less vulnerable – but his research indicated that heterosexual couples generally consider oral sex only as a part of foreplay, so he tries to provide John with penetrative sex as often as he can.

They never talk about it, or acknowledge it outside the bedroom in any way. John seems satisfied, and Sherlock is happy for the opportunity to be close to John and gather new data about him. He doesn’t care for the sex much, since he knows he’s just a stand-in, but sometimes John will stroke his hair or gently kiss his temple or shoulder or forehead, and Sherlock loves that, because then he can believe it’s an expression of John’s actual affection for him, even if he wouldn’t demonstrate it like that in normal circumstances. He treasures those moments.

Sherlock never reaches orgasm during their encounters. He doesn’t want to. It’s bad enough that male arousal insists on making itself so blatantly obvious, Sherlock has enough trouble being discreet about that. Most of the time, his control over his body is sufficient – he focuses on John’s closeness rather than his own bodily sensations, so that his arousal only reaches a low intensity and when John leaves, he’s able to just let it ebb away on its own. Other times, his body gets the upper hand, filling his veins with liquid desire, he struggles to keep himself in check while John’s fucking him, and the moment John’s gone he’ll get himself off within minutes, trying not to think of John but failing.

And then, of course, one day he fails on a much higher level.

It’s the first time they’ve tried this particular position: Sherlock’s on his knees, but his head and arms rest on the pillow – essentially, he’s there with his arse in the air, blatantly submissive. It’s extremely undignified, but the real problem is that the position turns out to be perfect for stimulating Sherlock’s prostate. John brushes it on every thrust and withdrawal, firmly enough to be more than teasing but not hard enough to be uncomfortable. He keeps a slow and steady pace, sending wave after wave of intense sensation to every particle of Sherlock’s body. He tries to take his mind off it, but it’s impossible: the only thing he can focus on is the delicious drag of John’s cock inside him, John’s fingers gripping his hips, the sounds John is making.

He’s so hard he’s leaking and his balls feel ready to burst; it’s driving him mad yet he knows he can’t touch himself, not with John there to see, but then suddenly he is touching himself, without consciously deciding to do it. As if on purpose, at that exact moment John starts thrusting harder, and Sherlock’s lost. He hopes briefly that John may be too distracted by his own pleasure to notice what Sherlock is doing, but after that the only thing he can do is push mindlessly into his own fist and then back against John, torn between which sensation he wants more. John’s driving into him hard, pushing him closer and closer to the edge, and Sherlock tugs at his cock helplessly, wanting, needing to come.

He has the presence of mind to turn his face into the pillow to muffle the moan he knows he won’t be able to keep in, and then his orgasm slams into him, its strength something Sherlock could never have expected. It starts deep inside of him where John is, but it explodes almost immediately to every fibre of his being, turning the world upside down. It’s the first time Sherlock has had an orgasm in the presence of another person, and it seems to last for ages – John keeps fucking into him, hard enough for the bedframe to rattle, his cock seeming twice as big as Sherlock’s muscles contract around it. He barely notices that the last few thrusts bring John to his own climax as Sherlock gulps for air, helpless.

As soon as John’s hold on him falters Sherlock collapses, unable to keep himself upright. The aftershocks die down, and he doesn’t come down from the heights of pleasure as much as he crashes: shame hits him hard enough to rival the force of his orgasm. He’s still trembling and breathless, but now in all the wrong ways. He turns his back to John, who’s saying something that Sherlock can’t even process, pulling his knees up and bending his spine to hide the revolting evidence of his lack of self-control that stains his hand and stomach, in a desperate attempt to hide it from John.

How could he have been so thoughtless? This should never have happened, he should never have forced John to witness this. After all the effort Sherlock made to eliminate everything that could make John uncomfortable, now he’s gone and ruined it all, saying “Look, John, you’re with a man!” in the crudest way possible.

“Hey,” John says softly, ever the caring friend even when he must be utterly disgusted. “You all right?”

“Fine,” Sherlock says, more harshly than he intended, John’s concern only adding to the shame crushing him.

John touches his shoulder gently. “You know it’s all right if…”

“I said I’m fine!” Sherlock interrupts him, flinching away from John’s touch and curling into an even tighter ball.

John doesn’t give him a good-night kiss that night, which is of course entirely deserved. Sherlock stays in the same position for hours, come drying on his skin into a shameful crust.

He thinks John might never want to touch him again after that, but, not for the first time, he utterly underestimates John Watson.

The very next day, John breaks their pattern. They come home after a fruitless trip to a crime scene that was so full of evidence that the culprit might have as well signed their name, and as soon as they enter the flat, before even turning on the lights, John crowds him against the wall, his mouth hot on Sherlock’s neck.

It’s unexpected, but Sherlock’s happy to go along with it. He’s ready to do anything to make up for his failure – until John’s hand moves between Sherlock’s legs and squeezes.

“No!” Sherlock yelps, twisting himself out of John’s arms. It’s the worst outcome there could have been: John, prone to gentlemanly tendencies as always, now clearly feels the need to fight against his natural feelings – Sherlock has evidently managed to make John feel selfish for not reciprocating, enough to make him think he needs to make up for it. “You don’t have to do that!”

“I know I don’t have to—“

“Good,” Sherlock says quickly and drops to his knees, already unfastening John’s trousers. John isn’t hard – of course he isn’t, how could palming Sherlock’s penis do anything but turn him off? – but that’s all right, Sherlock can get him there soon enough, and then he’ll do everything to give John the best orgasm of his life. He just needs to convince John that he doesn’t require anything for him and that John has absolutely nothing to feel bad about.

He does manage to give John a powerful orgasm, and things seem all right after that. The next time they have sex John doesn’t attempt to touch him, and Sherlock retains enough control of his body not to embarrass them both again.

But John seems a little withdrawn after that, and it turns out that after all, everything’s not all right.

***

It’s late in the evening and Sherlock has just finished playing the violin for John, who’s sipping his tea quietly, somewhat tense. Sherlock estimates it’s time for him to go and get ready. He puts his violin away, feeling John’s eyes on him, and makes his way to the bathroom. He’s halfway there, his back to John, when John speaks.

“Sherlock, wait.” Sherlock freezes – John’s tone is heavy, and Sherlock can tell that nothing good is coming. “I can’t go on like this. I—I’ve tried, really, but I just can’t.”

It’s not unexpected – Sherlock has known it would happen ever since the start – but the rejection still feels like a kick.

He turns only so that his profile is to John, unable to fully face him, and nods. “I see.”

There is a short pause.

“Is that all you have to say?” John asks, sharp.

Sherlock glances at him briefly.

“What do you want me to say?” Should he apologise for his inadequacies? He’s never been good at apologising.

“I don’t know, anything! Ask me why! Or does it mean so little to you?”

Sherlock looks at him properly then, because that doesn’t make any sense. It meant everything to Sherlock, of course, but John isn’t supposed to know that, he isn’t supposed to want to know that. Confused, Sherlock decides to focus on the previous part of what John said first.

“I know why, obviously.”

“Oh,” John says, and for some reason the anger seems to go out of him, and he looks down. “So I suppose you really just don’t care.”

Sherlock has no idea what’s going on and it’s extremely frustrating.

“Of course I care, but what use is it? I can’t bring her back and I can’t turn into her and I never expected to be an adequate replacement in any long-term fashion. I don’t know what more there is to—“ he cuts himself off, because John’s expression has turned absolutely horrified.

“What? Sherlock—what are you talking about?”

The conversation makes less and less sense the longer it goes on. John stares at him with wide eyes, and Sherlock says nothing, suddenly wrong-footed. He hesitates, unsure what to say.

“Oh my god,” John breathes, and sits down heavily on a kitchen chair, as if unable to keep himself upright. “Oh my god. You think I’m… using you.”

“No! No, John, it’s fine, I promise you,” Sherlock says beseechingly, because the worst thing that could come out of this mess would be John blaming himself for anything – the point of the whole thing was to make him feel better, not worse. “I was glad to do anything that… anything.”

“I’m an idiot,” John says in a strained voice, and buries his face in his hands. He looks so unhappy it makes something twist in Sherlock’s chest; he aches with the need to comfort John somehow, but he doesn’t know how, and he doesn’t know if he’s allowed. “I thought you… you were always so reserved, but I thought that was just—how you are, I was trying to accept it and I… oh my god, all this time I was upset because you didn’t want me to get you off, and you were… you were—“ He stops, taking a very shaky breath.

“I’m sorry?” Sherlock offers, completely at a loss for what to do.

“Jesus Christ,” John whispers and lifts his head, looking at Sherlock with a pained expression. “You have nothing to apologise for. You… just, just listen to me now, okay? You are not a—replacement,” he grits his teeth, “or anything like that. You’re… you. You’re who I want.”

Sherlock… just stands there. There’s sincerity written in every line of John’s face, but what he says does not align with what Sherlock knows to be true.

“You’ve made it clear on numerous occasions that you aren’t interested in men generally and me particularly,” he points out, trying to find a semblance of sense.

“Now I certainly wish I hadn’t,” John sighs and stands up again, facing Sherlock. “I know I said that, but Sherlock, the last time was years ago and I—I love you.”

John breathes heavily, and Sherlock… does nothing. He just is, there in the kitchen, looking at John but not really seeing him.

“I don’t find it easy to say these things,” John continues, stepping closer to Sherlock. “But I should have told you at the start. I love you. I thought you must have… deduced that.”

He cups Sherlock’s cheek and leans in to kiss him, softly. It’s unlike every kiss they’ve ever shared, and something shatters inside Sherlock.

“John,” he exhales, clutching at John’s arms. This is a dream, it has to be, because it makes no sense for John to lie but it also makes no sense for what he says to be the truth. It doesn’t matter, though: Sherlock will take the dream while it lasts.

John brings their foreheads together, his breath ghosting over Sherlock’s lips.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Sherlock says automatically.

John makes a pained little noise and kisses Sherlock, his lips firm but exquisitely gentle on Sherlock’s. Sherlock kisses back the best he knows how and it feels like drowning from the inside, like something long buried inside him is surging up, leaving him unmoored, drifting into a featureless landscape.

Trying to tether himself to something familiar, Sherlock lets his knees bend, ready to fall down on them and do what he knows, but John doesn’t let him. He cups Sherlock’s elbows, keeping him standing.

“No,” he whispers, “not like this anymore.” He takes Sherlock’s hand and leads him to his bedroom.

It’s the second time they’ve held hands – if you count the time years ago when they were handcuffed together, and Sherlock does, of course he does. But it’s the first time it’s like this, with their fingers laced together, John’s thumb moving soothingly over Sherlock’s skin. Sherlock never wants to let go.

John kicks off his shoes at the side of the bed and so Sherlock does the same, unsure of what is expected of him now. He’s ridiculous, he thinks as he climbs onto the bed after John. He’s had John’s cock inside him countless times, in his mouth and in his arse, in this very bed, it’s ridiculous that he should feel so… uncertain now. But it was different then, when he knew (or thought he knew, maybe, possibly, if he’s luckier than he deserves) that his only task was to get John off quickly and efficiently, while making himself as inconspicuous as possible. He has no idea what to do now – he can’t fathom what a man who says he loves him might want from him.

They lie facing each other, and John puts his hand in Sherlock’s hair the way Sherlock likes, his touch feather-light.

“What would you like?” he asks.

“I—anything,” Sherlock says, taken aback. “Whatever you want.”

John’s face scrunches briefly, but he keeps petting Sherlock’s hair, and says nothing for a while.

“You like this, though,” John says after a while. “When I stroke your hair. I thought you'd find it too sentimental, but you like it. Don’t you?”

Sherlock nods. He doesn’t know if it’s the answer John wants, but he can’t possibly lie about this – he loves it.

“What else?” John asks. “Was there… did we do anything else that you liked?”

Sherlock breathes, and swallows.

“When you—when you kiss my forehead,” he says very quietly, “but you don’t have…”

John presses his lips to Sherlock’s forehead once, twice, three times, sending a shiver down Sherlock’s spine.

“Sherlock, just one thing,” John murmurs, his breath hot on Sherlock’s skin. “Please, just one thing. Don’t do anything just because you think I want it. You deserve to get as much out of this as me. I want to give it to you. Please, will you… will you tell me if there’s anything you want, or don’t want. It matters to me. Can you do that?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says immediately, because it looks like John is biting back tears and Sherlock wants it to stop, but then he realises that’s probably exactly what John told him not to do. He tries to imagine ever denying John anything, but he can’t. After how much he’d hurt John in the past, how could he not want to give John everything? But he doesn’t want John to ever look like he does now, so he’ll do his best. “That is,” he says, “I’ll… try.”

“Good,” John says with a small smile. “Thank you.” He touches Sherlock’s face tenderly, as if the day’s worth of facial hair isn’t the slightest problem. Sherlock wants to kiss him.

“I want to kiss you,” he says, remembering the promise he just made. “May I?”

“Of course. You don’t need to ask.”

They kiss languidly, and John presses himself against Sherlock’s masculine body like he wants to be there, he buries his face in Sherlock’s neck and breathes in the smell of his sweat that Sherlock hasn’t had time to wash away, and finally, Sherlock allows himself to do what he’s wanted to do for so long: he wraps his arms around John, and holds him. John lets himself be pulled close, his hands stoking up and down Sherlock’s back, first through his shirt, then under it.

Slowly, they undress each other, never moving further away from each other than absolutely necessary, barely breaking the kiss. John’s hands roam over Sherlock’s body, his broad shoulders, his narrow hips, the flat panes of his chest, and a flush of arousal colours his cheeks, miraculous. Sherlock lets himself touch John in ways he never dared to before, with reverent affection, and John sighs his name in reply. It’s so very different from anything Sherlock has known before.

“All right?” John asks after what feels like years, the fingers of his left hand brushing Sherlock’s pubic hair, so close to where Sherlock is hard with an arousal that’s not insistent at all but somehow fills every crevice of Sherlock’s body anyway.

He nods, and then watches, mesmerised, as John’s small, beloved hand wraps itself around Sherlock’s cock. Sherlock sucks in a noisy breath as John’s hand moves, and he bites down on his lower lip.

“Don’t” John tells him, and he gently pries Sherlock’s lip from between his teeth. “Don’t hold yourself back.”

The habit to keep quiet is strong, though, so Sherlock presses his lips to John’s in order to muffle his moan when John’s thumb flicks over the tip of Sherlock’s cock. It’s nothing like when Sherlock does this himself – his masturbatory sessions are always brief and to the point, but John’s clearly intent on driving Sherlock to ecstasy, and just that knowledge is almost enough to make Sherlock come.

Then, just when Sherlock thinks it can’t possibly get any better, John reaches for Sherlock’s hand, and wraps their joined hands around both of their cocks, and it’s glorious. John groans loudly, and then they’re moving together, their hands stroking in unison, sighing into each other’s mouth, wrapped up in exquisite pleasure that’s theirs, shared, and they’re together.

“John,” Sherlock moans as he feels his orgasm building at the root of his spine, fucking into the tight circle of their hands. He says John’s name because now he can. “John, John!”

“Yes,” John hisses, redoubling his efforts. “C’mon, Sherlock, come for me, come for me.”

Hearing John say his name is all it takes: Sherlock’s pleasure peaks in one sharp spike, and the world explodes behind his eyes as he spills over their hands, his head thrown back in a shout that never manages to leave his lungs.

“Oh fuck, that’s gorgeous, Sherlock, that’s—!” John pants, rutting frantically against Sherlock and then coming, Sherlock’s name on his lips.

They stay close together as the last tendrils of climax ebb away, and then John reaches for something that Sherlock’s oxytocin-addled brain doesn’t immediately recognise as John’s pants, and he wipes at their stomachs, where the evidence of their release has become one and the same.

“All right?” he asks, and Sherlock nods, curling up as close to John as physically possible.

“Your face when you’re having an orgasm is the single most erotic thing I’ve ever seen,” John murmurs into Sherlock’s hair, and Sherlock—giggles, because if there’s something he never expected to come out of John’s mouth, it’s this.

They stay quiet for a while, just breathing together, and for the first time that night Sherlock starts feeling like the world around him is real. Here he is, in John’s arms, sweat drying on his skin after what he thinks might actually be called love-making, John peppering kisses all over his face, and it’s real.

“Did you mean it?” he asks when he finds his voice.

“What, about your face?”

“Everything,” Sherlock says, unable to look at John.

John pulls away a little, just enough to be able to see Sherlock’s face, and he touches his chin, making him look at him.

“Yes, Sherlock,” he says, his eyes boring into Sherlock’s. “Everything. I… loved Mary, and in a way I’ll always miss her, but that—that doesn’t change how I feel about you. I meant everything, and I won’t ever say something I don’t.”

Sherlock believes him.

He believes him, and the feeling is so disarming he has to pull John closer again, hide his face in his shoulder.

“I love you,” he mumbles, and doesn’t care that he’s mumbling.

John’s arms tighten around him, strong and gentle.

“I know.”